Vacation Friends (2021)
They came home with some extra baggage.
It may be streaming on Disney+, but Vacation Friends definitely isn’t a Disney movie — it’s got a ton of foul language, drug use, and sexual references. A generic R-rated comedy with a feel-good edge, Vacation Friends can be best described as a cross between Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) and What About Bob? (1991). The film basically sees Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, John Cena, and Meredith Hanger star as a pair of couples who meet while on Vacation in Mexico, their friendship taking an awkward turn when they return to their regular lives.
Trying to wring laughs out of quirky characters and uncomfortable situations, director Clay Tarver, Silicon Valley (2014-19), struggles to give any of his main players depth or personality. At the same time, the script — which Tarver penned with writing teams Tom and Tim Mullen and John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein — feels very scattershot and unfocused. And while there are no belly-aching laughs or genuine surprises to be found anywhere in the film, it gets by (only just) because of its stars’ general likability and eagerness to simply go for it.
The movie follows mild-mannered construction company owner Marcus (Lil Rel Howery), who’s just taken his long-time girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji) to a posh Mexican resort for a week-long holiday, where he plans to propose. When they arrive at the five-star hotel he’s organized, Marcus is distraught to discover that the expensive room he’s booked has been ruined by water damage, which has been caused by a jacuzzi that’s overflown in the presidential suite above. With the resort fully booked out, Marcus is forced to consider moving to their next best option, a shoddy Best Western hotel near the airport. Luckily, the free-spirited couple who caused the flood, Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), offer to make amends for ruining Marcus and Emily’s room, demanding they bunk with them for a night as they’ve got real estate to spare.
One night eventually turns into an outrageous week of drunken antics, wild misadventures, sporadic drug-taking, and an impulsive wedding ceremony, with Ron and Kyla’s carefree attitude quickly rubbing off on the risk-averse Marcus and Emily. Given that they’ve had such a great time together, Ron and Kyla intend to stay in contact with Marcus and Emily after their new pals return to their home in Chicago. Marcus and Emily, however, are vague about their promise to keep in touch, as they’re happy to treat the crazy couple as vacation friends and nothing else. Seven months later and Marcus and Emily are preparing for a lavish destination wedding in Atlanta, hosted by Emily’s loaded parents, esteemed academics Harold (Robert Wisdom) and Suzanne (Lynn Whitfield). That’s when Ron and Kyla show up, literally crashing the party uninvited. Shocked by the arrival of the erratic duo, Marcus and Emily must find a way to keep their ‘new friends’ from revealing anything about their debaucherous vacation, chiefly anything that could humiliate them in front of their families.
While most of the comedy in Vacation Friends centers around how ‘extreme’ Ron and Kyla are — they garnish the rims of their margarita glasses with cocaine as opposed to salt and drive jet skis while stoned — they’re painted as genuinely good people from the get-go. This makes it kind of difficult to side with Marcus and Emily when they’re trying to blow them off. Ron’s the type of guy who doesn’t get mad when Marcus crashes his expensive yacht because they’ve got a cool story to tell — he’s just a nice guy in need of a friend. Kyla’s unfiltered mouth gets her in some strife despite her good intentions, but just like Ron, she’s harmless. Honestly, though, not much is known about Ron and Kyla bar the fact that they’re very well off and can live an untamed life without any consequences. Ron is an ex-Green Beret turned park ranger who’s somehow mastered the art of pinpointing exactly when a flying bird will poop, while Kyla is a manic medical assistant of some sort. These characters are so paper-thin that literally anyone could have played them — Chris Pratt and Anna Faris were initially set to star back in 2014 when they were still an item.
There are some half-decent set-pieces, but most come off as stand-alone gags that could appear in a sketch show. The men go out on a ceremonial ‘fox hunt’ where Marcus and Ron separate from the group, venturing off into the woods to catch a real fox. While on the lookout, Marcus accidentally eats a hallucinogenic mushroom, which causes him to get high and see Harold transform into a clown. There’s also an amusing high-stakes game of golf where Marcus and Ron place an expensive wager against Emily’s douchey brother Gabe (Andrew Bachelor) — who kinda hates Marcus — and Gabe’s pal Bennet (Kamal Angelo Bolden). Underlying these is a B-plot involving Marcus, who thinks he may be the father of Kyla’s child after their drunken shenanigans in Mexico has him convinced that he’s knocked her up, leading to an awkward spot at the rehearsal dinner. Then we have the more generic beats, such as the ‘missing’ heirloom wedding rings along with a socio-economic conflict between Marcus’ working-class parents and Emily’s highly-strung father, which is barely explored and is simply used to create comic moments of unease.
Fortunately, the cast is hugely infectious and likable. John Cena, Bumblebee (2018), embraces his comedic talents as the thrill-seeking Ron — and really, the Fast 9 team should’ve taken advantage of this instead of having Cena play a humorless stick-in-the-mud. Cena also bounces well against Lil Rel Howery’s frazzled energy and exasperated looks. The gals, Yvonne Orji, Night School (2018), and Meredith Hanger, Hits (2014), probably aren’t as good due to their characters being more underwritten than the guys, but Hanger in particular exhibits a cute, manic pixie energy that makes her Kyla endearing — her connection with Emily’s grandmother Phyllis (Denise Burse) is really quite charming.
All up, Vacation Friends is a pretty formulaic comedy that makes good use of its on-screen talent. While it’s nowhere near as funny or clever as it could have been, it’s agreeable enough to pass the time. You’ll have a few mild chuckles, but just like real-life vacation friends, you’ll probably never want to see it again.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)